How not to suck at parenting.

Frank Shaeffer over at Patheos is writing a great series at the moment on parenting. Short, pithy little bites on how to not suck at raising your kids, which, I’m ashamed to admit, I found really useful this week (ashamed because I was being a terrible mother, not because I’m ashamed to take his advice, yes?).
Today’s post is titled ‘God and All That For Your Kids’ and in it he discusses the question of passing on your faith, or lack of it, to your children.

So don’t wait for certainty before you do anything about faith for your kids. Don’t rob your children of comfort just because of your doubts.

It’s a big question for those of us who are, shall we say, ‘unsure’ of our own position. How much uncertainty and questioning is appropriate for a small child, given that 1- children will believe what their parents believe (at least for a while) and 2- I don’t want to convince my child to believe something when I don’t know how I’ll feel about it myself a year from now.

In my post ‘Why I’m glad that I was raised as a Godless heathen’ , I decided that the freedom to choose, without the constraints of expectation and dogma, had been really important in my spiritual formation. Of course, I could be totally wrong about that. Maybe if I’d been given some gentle nudging I’d be more settled and nestled in my own faith now.

So, in regards to my boys, I think that ‘gentle nudging’ is the way to go. They know that I believe that God is ‘probably’ real, although we won’t know absolutely for certain until we die. They know that their Daddy, and in fact most of their relatives, don’t believe in God at all, and that that’s OK. They also know, however, that Mummy has spent MUCH MUCH more time thinking about these issues and so therefore her opinion should probably carry more weight.

They also know that they can come to church with me at anytime, an offer that I’m sure one of them might even take me up on. Eventually…

5 thoughts on “How not to suck at parenting.

  1. Thanks for this. My feeling is that, if God exists, it can’t be that important to him/her/it what we believe.

    Lots of people try to have faith and find they can’t sustain. Lots of people in history have never heard about the God of any major religion at all. I think even among people of deeply held faith, the honest ones say they’re far from certain.

    If there are eternal consequences for not believing, a just God would make sure it was very clear. Whatever the truth is, it certainly isn’t very clear that God exists.

    • Faith certainly comes easier to some than to others, but I feel that most of us have a craving for there to be SOMETHING more to all of this. Whether this is a fingerprint of God or a perfectly normal evolutionary remnant, I can’t say.
      And yes, if there are eternal consequences for not believing ( which I don’t believe) then that would make God a bit of a bast#rd, wouldn’t it;)

      Thanks for reading


  2. This is actually a rather important consideration depending on what your goal of being a good parent means. If your goal is to produce a happy, healthy, well adjusted, independent, responsible, caring, conscientious, and compassionate individual focused on how to living well and wisely in this world, then you have to look at the effects different kinds of parenting choices end up supporting. And I can think of few teachings more central to affecting this goal than the teaching some particular religious faith or exposing children to the notion of a god, with various rules and regulations and purposes for humanity that historically exists and causes effect in this universe. I think this dichotomous belief has a direct and profound impact on children’s brain development and morality. In other words, it affects what kind of adult is produced.

    I know this sound rather startling but consider:

    If you support belief in some hidden, supernatural agency, what effects do you think this might have on children who are populating their map of the world they inhabit and look to you as an authority on what is and is not accurate? One such aspect is figuring out which parts of the supernatural are ‘real’ and which are false. How can we teach them to tell the difference when we ourselves cannot articulate how we pick and choose?

    The impacts of such faith-based belief passed on from parents to children are profound.

    Firstly, are they responsible for shaping the kind of people they will become – and the morality they exercise – or are they molded products of a preordained fate, carrying out a purpose assigned to them, exercising actions deemed moral not by real world effect but by external faith-based authority? How might either viewpoint affect moral development? Which authorities are trustworthy and which ones are not if two in competition and conflict are supported equally by supernatural and hidden agencies? How can they learn to tell which is which?

    Secondly, are children supposed to become autonomous agents answerable to their own best reasons for and consequences produced by their actions or are they dependent agents acting on behalf of someone or something else, merely a cog in some faith-based machinery? When a conflict arises between their independence and best reasons for decisions and faced with demands on their submission to authority if at odds, then how can they be responsible if that decision is made for them?

    Thirdly, how do we help children develop respect for the ethical values of our western secular liberal democracies, values like the rights and freedoms of both ourselves and our neighbours, consent of the governed to be governed, legal equality of individuals, the dignity of personhood and property, and so on? If we subject ourselves to the authority of some faith-based ethical system, then how can we reasonably expect our children so directed to be able to stand for what is right based on best ethical reasons and consequences to those values rather than the imposed authority from someone convinced that he speaks by divine fiat?

    I do not see compatibility between developing a fully autonomous and responsible adult by means of undermining exactly this goal throughout childhood by means of promoting piousness, which stands contrary to every aspect of responsible autonomy. In addition, I think it is a tragedy to teach children to be more concerned about a hypothetical afterlife than how to function as a responsible autonomous adult in this one.

    But I understand the power and scope and seduction of religious belief as well as the social benefits accrued by being a member of the herd. But I think my children – and yours – deserve a better goal than simply being a part of the herd. I want them to be exemplary people, the kind that others wish to emulate, individuals who are strong and confident in the face of personal adversity and life’s difficulties, who rise to the occasion, overcome challenges, and can be counted on in a crisis, who think critically and creatively well enough to know when they are being fooled, and who can develop moral and ethic standards to be proud of on their own merits, because of best reasons. I want my children to experience this life fully and wisely no matter what happens throughout that life and I want to equip them with the best means possible to accomplish this task by first developing into fully functioning and capable autonomous adults. That means that my job as a parent is to recognize what aids and what blunts achieving this goal. Asserting that belief in some external hidden authority who magically instills some moral code independent of those who exercise it, I think, is nothing more than an abdication of responsible parenting… an exercise steeped in one’s own childhood religious indoctrination, an example of wishful thinking that stands contrary to compelling evidence against it. And we usually need only look to ourselves to see the long-term negative consequence of allowing faith-based beliefs to have more authority over us than we grant to our autonomous selves.

    I don’t know about you, but my children deserve better parenting than what I received. And we have better knowledge today than what was available then. That’s why good parenting is harder today than ever. The question then becomes, are we up to the challenge or will we revert to what’s easier?

    • This is an amazing comment; thank you so much. And I absolutely agree with you- this form of faith isn’t one that I am trying to instil in my children. I think that having valued and respected role models from different backgrounds is important. My boys know what I believe, but also that I don’t know for certain. They know that Daddy doesn’t believe, nor do their grandparents. Another significant person is Buddhist and another just lives by the creed ‘ be good to people’. We have a good mix, of which I’m in the minority! ( keep in mind that my brand of Christianity involves no hell and the loving of ALL people)

      It’s Sunday morning here and I just asked my boys if any one would like to come to church with me. The 7 year old yelled ‘OH MY GOD NO!!!!’. You can see that we’re not big on indoctrination here 😉
      Again, thank you for your considered input.

      • It’s Sunday morning here and I just asked my boys if any one would like to come to church with me. The 7 year old yelled ‘OH MY GOD NO!!!!

        That is so funny!

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